Nightly News   |  May 01, 2013

Art program transforms failing school

Orchard Gardens, a school in Roxbury, Mass., had been plagued by bad test scores and violence -- but one principal’s idea to fire the security guards and hire art teachers is helping turn it around. NBC’s Katy Tur reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> finally tonight the boston meopolitan aa has been in the news lately as it was again tonight at the top of this broadcast for all the wrong reasons. this next story, however, is about something good. a big idea showing successful results. our story is from the roxbury neighborhood which had more than its fair share of crime and poverty. they have decided to take hundreds of thousands being spent on security and put it to a completely different use at school. our report tonight from nbc's katy tur.

>> reporter: it was known as a drop out factory. three years ago orchard gardens schools in roxbury , massachusetts , was charged by low test scores and violence.

>> going to the stores in the middle of classes, barging into rooms. it was crazy.

>> reporter: students couldn't carry backpack out of fear they would use them to hide weapons. in the first seven years there were five principals. every fall, more than half of the teachers didn't return. that all changed in 2010 with principal number six and his bold idea.

>> i had a huge security infrastructure. i decided to eliminate it completely and reinvest that money into the arts.

>> reporter: principal andrew's goal was to use the arts as a tool for academic success.

>> a lot of people would say you realize orchard gardens is a career killer. there was a disbelief anybody would choose to come. the school definitely had a prison feel.

>> reporter: not anymore. with the help of the pumped-up arts program or orchard gardens went from among the worst performing schools in massachusetts to having one of the fastest student improvement rates nearby.

>> it develops the whole student. you're going to see improvement in other academic areas.

>> reporter: tell me, did the hallways look like this?

>> no. there was not this level of student work on the walls. now the hallways capture the spirit of the school. we are far from done. we are definitely on the right path.

>> reporter: 8th grader keyvon little embody that is turnaround. once struggling he's headed to the competitive boston arts academy for high school .

>> snow tnow the teachers help me, push me on the right track. i can actually see a future for myself.

>> reporter: a future made a lot brighter by a crazy idea that now looks more like a stroke of genius.

>> this school is awesome.

>> reporter: katy tur, nbc news, roxbury , massachusetts .